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PC epicenter moving to Asia as Dell, HP regroup

Agam Shah | Feb. 15, 2013
Asia is fast becoming the epicenter of the PC market as Chinese and Taiwanese companies challenge the turf occupied for more than a decade by prominent U.S. PC makers Hewlett-Packard and Dell, whose laptop and desktop shipments are stumbling.

There's a big difference between the enterprise and consumer sectors with respect to products and business models, said John Ciacchella, principal at Deloitte Consulting.

To play in the consumer market, where companies like Lenovo are strong, manufacturers need to move volumes of product, while they need to offer services and value to appeal to enterprises, Ciacchella said.

"Lenovo has played economies of scale, they've globalized. They've played the market better than an HP or Dell has," Ciacchella said.

Lenovo also has the natural advantage of proximity to their suppliers as well as to growing markets. Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China are hubs for PC assembly and manufacturing of components like memory, motherboards.

"In the case of Lenovo they've got an indigenous market that's huge," Ciacchella said. "It's still nowhere near saturation."

Asian PC makers, especially Lenovo and Asus, are aggressively investing in the consumer market, either through acquisitions or through research and development, said Tracy Tsai, an analyst at Gartner.

The Asian companies are devoted to creating a variety of consumer-oriented product lines, including tablets and smartphones, Tsai said. HP and Dell were slow in adapting to the mobile device business, and research and development is focused more on enterprise products for the long term, instead of consumer products that fulfill short-term demand.

Innovations from U.S. PC makers IBM, HP, Compaq, Apple and Dell drove early PC growth. But PCs have become commodity products and the level of innovation in laptops and desktops has not matched that of tablets. Innovation in PCs is now primarily being driven by chip maker Intel, which hopes to fuel the market with ultrabooks, a new category of thin-and-light laptops with tablet features.

But expensive ultrabooks and a weak user response to Windows 8 have failed to boost the PC market. Microsoft has developed Surface tablets, which the software maker intends to be a starting point for PC makers to develop a new generation of Windows PCs. Early reception to the device, however, raises questions about its future success.

One big exception to the general trend in the U.S. is Apple, which created the tablet market and has committed customers willing to pay a premium for Macs. Apple is bringing back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. In addition, Lenovo will start making tablets and computers in the U.S. There are also some exceptions to the generally positive trend in Asia -- Japanese PC vendors like Sony and Fujitsu continue to struggle, while Taiwanese PC maker Acer is floundering after putting too much stock on netbooks and not anticipating the arrival of tablets.

But it's hard to compete with Asian PC makers on margins, said Kelt Reeves, CEO of Falcon Northwest, which makes laptops and desktops for a specialized audience including gamers.


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